‘Born alive’ Act fails to gain support in Montana

By: and - November 10, 2022 11:40 am

Dr. Brad Holbrook, an obstetrician and maternal-fetal medicine physician, speaks at an event advocating against ballot measure LR-131 in the Capitol rotunda in Helena on Thursday. (Photo by Nicole Girten/Daily Montanan)

Legislative Referendum 131, a lawmaker-proposed measure known as the “Born Alive” Act that would have purportedly required doctors to save any infant born alive after a late-term abortion, failed to garner enough support to become law.

As of Thursday morning, with all precincts fully reporting in Montana, the measure had failed by a wide margin – more than 21,000 votes. Fifty-three percent of voters rejected the initiative.

The referendum drew widespread criticism from the state’s medical community and inspired some voters to head to the polls just to oppose it.

Cherish Pfaff, of Missoula County, waited to re-register to vote in order to oppose LR-131. (Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

In Missoula County, Cherish Pfaff stood in line to re-register to vote against LR-131 on Tuesday because she believes people should be in control of their own bodies. She said young women get sexually assaulted every day, and she said abortion protections in Montana should remain in place.

“Honestly, I’ll be damned if those are overturned,” Pfaff said as she waited in line Tuesday.

The referendum would have affected newborns who were born through natural labor as well, but it had been seen as a referendum on abortion rights.

Members of the medical community said the proposed law was extraneous because doctors are already required to save the life of any born-alive infant. They also argued that such a measure would inadvertently require doctors and healthcare centers to take extraordinary measures to rescue babies born with medical conditions prematurely who have no chance of survival, and rob parents of final moments with children who were the result of miscarriages or catastrophic medical conditions.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill insist it was necessary to protect lives in a state where access to abortion has been upheld as a constitutional right.

The medical community raised concerns that the measure was also a political strategy aimed at making requirements so onerous or fraught with liability that it would force medical practitioners to cease offering abortion services.  

Several groups cheered the news Thursday that voters had said no to the act.

Martha Fuller, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana said:

“Today is a victory for Montanans and for reproductive freedom. Despite the opposition’s campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering, Montanans saw LR-131 for what it was: a blatant and dangerous attempt to put politicians in charge of our personal medical decisions by stigmatizing abortion and lying about reproductive health care. Their plan backfired and we’re thrilled that voters rejected this referendum. The fight to protect reproductive rights in Montana is far from over. Time and again, anti-abortion lawmakers have proven they will stop at nothing to score cheap political points and strip constituents of their basic freedoms. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana will be on high alert during the upcoming legislative session and ready to fight back against new attacks on our bodies, lives, and futures.

And a coalition of advocates formed to oppose the measure said they overcame several obstacles to educate voters about the issue.

Today’s win sends a clear message to state leadership: Montanans demand our right to make private health care decisions for ourselves and our families with the help of our trusted medical teams — and without interference from politicians.”

One coalition was formed to galvanize opposition to the effort as well as educate voters.

“We trusted that Montana voters would choose to defeat LR-131 when they were provided with all the facts, but getting here was no small feat. From deceptive ballot language to inaccurate statements in the Secretary of State’s Voter Information Pamphlet to legislators making misleading claims and disparaging remarks about health professionals, we fought every step of the way to ensure that truth would win out,” said organizers of the group No On LR-131.

The Montana Medical Association expressed relief because the organization had concerns that it would drive more medical professionals out of the state and make recruiting efforts harder.

“The Montana Medical Association is pleased that the practice of medicine will be left to doctors and patients. The measure would have criminalized the work of Montana providers and posed very real negative impacts on families experiencing tragic pregnancy complications. These are tragedies, not crimes,” it said in a press release on Thursday morning.

Consistently, Montanans have favored protections for abortion and reproductive services, despite lawmakers’ call for it to end, and a United States Supreme Court ruling that sent the issue back to the states. One of the few public polls done in the Treasure State, the Mountain States Poll conducted by Montana State University-Billings earlier this autumn, revealed that abortion still enjoyed popular support among residents.


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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.

Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.